Older posts on this blog often receive comments containing interesting viewpoints or insights that it’s a shame that they’re buried where regular readers of this blog aren’t likely go back and find them. In particular David Vineyard has been going through the entire backlog of posts, and over the past few days he’s been leaving an impressive array of both opinions and information throughout this blog about what he’s found.

    So over the next week or so, I’m going to be re-posting many of the comments he’s left, hoping to make sure the work he’s done receives the widest audience possible.

    There’ll be no frills on these. No cover images or bibliographies, for example — they’ll have been done in the original posts. You’ll have to go back and read those anyway. Nor will I usually add a reply of my own, but please feel to respond yourself, if you feel so inclined.

    First up, David’s reply to George Kelley’s overview of the Joe Gall series:

    “While I agree with many of the good things said about Atlee as a writer and about Gall as a character toward the end Atlee’s lack of fear of saying what he believed led to some outright racist passages that can’t be excused as either characterization or some ruse of Gall’s to infiltrate the enemy. At least one book ends with an unpleasant rant between Gall and his boss talking about protecting civilization from the dark races — I suppose I could have taken this wrong or out of context, and Atlee may have intended the passage as sardonic in the Richard Condon mode, but it didn’t read that way.

    “That isn’t a condemnation of the series as a whole, nor representative of them, but there is a fine line between being ‘outspoken’ in ones opinions and outright offensive and Atlee seems to sometimes cross that line.

    “Of course if you are going to read older popular fiction you have to park more modern sensibilities or at least cut the author and characters some slack for being men of their time, but this isn’t an isolated incident in only one Gall book. I will grant, however, that Atlee may have simply intended to stay true to the nature of Gall’s Southern redneck character and not have shared the words he sometimes put in Gall’s mouth.

    “John Buchan has been criticized for having a character in The 39 Steps refer to a Jewish character with ‘an eye like a rattlesnake’ with almost no one noting that Buchan was a close friend of Bernard Baruch, and the character in the book is a paranoid American who proves to be 100% wrong about the nature of the conspiracy he has uncovered. If I’m being overly sensitive and unfair to Atlee I apologise, perhaps he was just too convincing in the same way Buchan was.

    “Certainly the early Gall books represent a refreshing use of the hardboiled voice in the spy novel, and there is much to appreciate in Atlee’s books, but I have to admit once in a while he would have been better served by a more keen-eyed editorial hand.”

    To which Mark Lazenby has already responded:

    “Just tuned back in and am delighted to see people remember this great series. David rightly notes the pitfalls of evaluating past-generation, hard-boiled fiction through the prism of today’s more advanced social sensibilities. His views are well stated and worthy of consideration.

    “Please allow me one ‘but’ — while my memory of this series is now clouded by more than 30 years (I read the books as a teenager taking hand-me-downs from my father) my now-faded recollection is that I admired Atlee’s Gall character for his repudiation of Redneck views and ways despite his (somewhat eccentric) residency in the heart of small-town Arkansas. I can recall occasional rants that I interpreted not literally but as — quoting your correspondent — ‘sardonic in the Richard Condon way.’

    “This certainly motivates me to dig through the attic, locate one of the old, later Gall’s and give it a read. I will wager this series would resell in reprint.”